Several years ago, while taking my first, halting steps towards a greener existence, I spent four days in an eco-friendly spa in upstate New York. Nestled in the gorgeous Catskill Mountains, it was a rustic place that went beyond the usual spa staples of seaweed wraps and deep tissue massage.
The spa featured intense yoga classes and beautiful hiking trails – it was also known for having a slightly wackadoo spiritual vibe and offering a “cleansing” regimen of toxin-free foods. Meals were strictly organic and much of the menu came from an on-site greenhouse. It was all a bit touchy-feely for my taste – classes were offered on the healing power of crystals, and high colonics were available for those who wanted to kick their cleansing into over-drive. But I loved the emphasis on health and sustainability and I looked forward to ridding myself of stress and pollutants.
Unfortunately, one of the forbidden toxins at this spa was caffeine – I learned this on the first day, after a wimpy cup of decaf failed to jolt me out of my early morning coma. Still, the day was pleasant and as I hiked and cleansed I was the picture of health, brimming with rosy-cheeked vigor. By the next morning, however, the bloom was off the rose as I began to feel the first ominous stirrings of a caffeine withdrawal headache.
I found a waitress with blonde dreadlocks and a sympathetic chakra and pleaded for some real coffee, but the young woman (who looked like her name should be Feather) scolded me gently and promised that my headache would abate as soon as the “poisons” left my body. Instead the pain became exponentially worse. By lunchtime I was pale and stoop shouldered as the ache in my head became a steady drum beat of torture. Consumed by pain, it took me awhile to realize I was not alone, that women everywhere were walking around with pinched looks of agony. Instead of feeling healthy and relaxed I was becoming increasingly cranky – I was, after all, paying a lot of money to feel like crap. I was also ingesting huge amounts of acetaminophen to counter the pain, leading me to wonder if all this cleansing would eventually destroy my liver.
I began to compare symptoms with the other guests – like extremely coddled prisoners of war we passed information, rumor and advice through the ranks. Finally, someone told me the staff had a special tea with a secret ingredient that would cure the headache. At dinner that night, I looked extra pathetic and begged for the tea – by now I was hoping that the mystery ingredient would turn out to be morphine. But when it arrived I saw that the secret cure was just Lipton’s tea, with caffeine. It took me no time at all to scarf it down and lick the cup clean. I stopped just short of tilting my head back and squeezing the teabag directly into my open mouth.
Within minutes the pounding in my head began to subside. I felt the welcome rush of blood vessels opening, as the lovely familiar buzz spread through my veins. Without the veil of pain I noticed, for the first time, how majestically the mountains rose around me. The setting sun reflected off the lake in a soft halo of light that filled me with an unfamiliar sense of well-being and peace. I took a deep breath of clean mountain air and savored the delicious irony: by polluting myself – just a bit – I had finally found my bliss.
Image: Olly L